REPUBLIC OF IRELAND continue their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a tough contest against Switzerland on Thursday evening. Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) sets the scene.
Republic of Ireland v Switzerland | Thursday 5th September 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
The Republic of Ireland are midway through the Euro 2020 qualification process and on Thursday night will be aiming to strengthen their position at the top of Group D when Switzerland arrive at the Aviva Stadium. Mick McCarthy's men are five points clear at the summit (W3-D1-L0), although the pursuing Swiss and Denmark have games in-hand.
It’s been a case of substance over style as the Irish seek to secure a place in their third successive European Championship. Without a guaranteed play-off place to fall back on following a poor Nations League campaign under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill, Ireland know they must secure a top-two finish from a tricky pool to feature at Euro 2020.
Pinching a point in Copenhagen in June could prove pivotal come November, but McCarthy will be well aware that a poor performance this midweek in Dublin could also turn out to be equally decisive. Displays against Gibraltar and Georgia thus far have been functional rather than flashy, as Ireland focus on collecting points rather than plaudits at this stage.
Lack of an Irish goal threat
ROI have accumulated an alarmingly slim average of 1.42 Expected Goals (xG) per-game across their opening four fixtures with their five goal tally clearly concerning considering the standard of opposition. What’s more, none of the available four forwards at McCarthy’s disposal on Thursday have scored in 29 combined appearances for the country.
With a dearth of attacking talent, and a lack of inspiration from midfield, set-pieces are again important assets for Ireland to utilise. Dead-ball efforts were the source of the valuable efforts against Georgia and Denmark and the home side should be encouraged by Switzerland’s inability to cope with crosses into the box in previous qualifying contests.
In a similar view, there are also crumbs of comfort that Ireland will undoubtedly look to exploit elsewhere. For example, McCarthy has noted that the Swiss operate a back three that like to play the ball out from defence; he has promised that his team won't stand off and admire the intention, and instead a high tempo approach is desired from the ROI boss.
Defensively, the Republic are resolute, rigid and organised. McCarthy’s men remain a tight and compact outfit and that’s reflected in the low goals return with 17 of their past 20 matches producing fewer than three goals. Ireland have also avoided conceding a first-half goal in each of their last nine outings, so an unadventurous opening could be on the cards.
Switzerland without their key man
Over the past few years there have been many leaked stories of apparent friction between players, as well as management, in the Switzerland camp. Although nothing official has been noted, it’s telling that Die Nati’s key man, Xherdan Shaqiri, will be absent here after opting to focus on his club career at Liverpool instead of leading his country into battle.
Sources suggest head coach Vladimir Petkovic has a poor relationship with Shaqiri and the Switzerland supremo is under pressure to sort the situation. The Swiss FA also intervened, attempting to silence their players from speaking to the media about Shaqiri's absence; so far so good, but goalkeeper Yann Sommer instead decided to take a swipe at Ireland’s style.
After arriving in Ireland on Tuesday night, Sommer was quoted as saying, “Our opponents play a very unpleasant style of football, very hard. “We lost in Ireland in a friendly three years ago, Ireland are strong from corners and their game is very physical. The Irish are a team with a lot of passion, and we have to fight that.”
He’s right of course. Die Nati are unlikely to relish the challenge laid down in Dublin and will remember how difficult Northern Ireland made life for them during their 2018 World Cup play-off contests. Switzerland secured a controversial 1-0 aggregate victory in a tie that saw Petkovic’s posse struggle to exert their dominance, either at home or in Belfast.
Die Nati’s impressive recent record
Regardless, Switzerland deserve huge respect for their body of work over the past few years. The markets have made the visitors warm 6/5 (Bet365) favourites and it’s difficult to disagree with the odds considering Die Nati smashed Belgium 5-2 last November, held Brazil at the World Cup and played out a goalless draw with England in their most recent encounter.
The guests have also been a model of consistency in qualification action. Switzerland have suffered a solitary loss in 16 preliminary matches, and if we exclude Portugal from the equation, the away side have returned W13-D2-L0 in qualifiers over the past four years, keeping 11 clean sheets and scoring at least twice on 11 occasions.
Around half of Petkovic’s expected XI will feature players plying their trade in the Champions or Europa League this season – not one of the Irish squad can claim that tag – and so there is a noticeable gulf in class between the pair. However, I remain hopeful that Ireland can continue to frustrate more illustrious opposition, particularly at the Aviva.
So how to unearth value from a largely uninspiring betting heat? My preference is to keep the Swiss onside in a match featuring few clear-cut goalscoring opportunities. With that in mind, the 4/5 (Bet365) on Switzerland double chance and Under 3 Goals appeals. This selection pays out if the game ends 0-0, 1-1, or if the Swiss take top honours by 1-0 or 2-0.
Republic of Ireland v Switzerland – Switzerland double chance and Under 3 Goals (4/5 Bet365)